You’re busy, lazy, or maybe reading this whilst watching The X Factor so let’s cut straight to the chase…
1People relate to people
Your cause, your mission, your innovative approach, your shocking statistics, your lovely bar chart, your ROI and low admin costs are all great – but we humans reserve our most emotional responses for each other.
That seems kind of obvious, but it’s a fact that’s often overlooked because it’s easy to stop seeing the woods for the trees.
We want to help mums with cancer, children in war zones, families made homeless by floods, lonely older people. We love animals too – but especially the ones we anthropomorphise by imagining them feeling scared or unloved!
A good human story trumps pretty much anything else as a fundraising and communications tool. If your website doesn’t have any people’s stories in it, then ask yourself why. If you’re a cat rescue charity then maybe that’s OK. If you do advocacy work, research, second tier services, environmental work or whatever else, then I firmly believe that you need to talk about people in order to effectively talk to people.
Addendum: It’s easier to get people to care about one person, not a thousand of them. Joseph Stalin was kind of right when he said – ‘a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic’. That’s why on Red Nose Day they show tear-jerking videos about individual people rather than about the issues they’re affected by.
2Giving is as much about the donor as the recipient
There’s lots of reasons why people give money to charity. Pure altruism is one, but most people give, at least partly, because it makes themselves feel good. That doesn’t make us a nation of selfish gits, it’s perfectly normal.
In the days of social media, giving is increasingly moving from the private to the public realm. The Ice Bucket Challenge is a great example. Off the top of my head I couldn’t tell you the name of the charity or the disease it was raising money for. It was popular because it was all about people. The people in your social network, and the celebrities who got in on the act. Pouring a bucket of cold water over your head, or posing for a no make up selfie, or sharing cryptic messages about your bra colour – all say more about the sharer than the cause. We all like to be seen to be clever/caring/generous/carefree/ahead of the curve/popular.
3If you can’t take a photo of it, you’ll probably have a hard time getting people to donate to it
Advocacy, capacity building, medical research, training, running costs are all great. They all need funding but good luck with using them as the basis for a fundraising ask. As a rule, the more tangible the solution is, the easier it is to raise money for it. That’s why Oxfam give you the chance to buy a goat rather than fund a community sustainable livelihood enterprise.
4A case study isn’t a story
Whilst your institutional donors might like to read your case studies, your public donors won’t. Case studies are dry, lifeless things that reduce your work into ‘outcomes’ and ‘outputs’. Show me the people my money can help, not the efficacy of your interventions.
Have you ever read a book or watched a film that made you cry, or laugh? Of course you have. Well, I’ve read many M&E reports and for some reason I’ve never seen a Hollywood film adaption of one. They’re written by Tappers (see Rule #6) for the benefit of other Tappers. They’re no good for your fundraising communications because your audience are Listeners. You need to deputise your programme or M&E colleagues as would-be journalists and story-hunters.
You know what a story is – I read them to my toddler every day. They’re ingrained in the human psyche and are the most powerful communication tools ever invented. Next time you speak to one of your front-line staff ask them this simple conversation-starter ‘tell me the story of someone you met recently in your job whose situation made you happy/sad/angry/frustrated/inspired’.
5 One great story is better than ten good ones
6Tappers don’t make very good listeners
In their excellent book ‘Made to Stick’, Chip and Dan Heath tell the story of a psychology experiment. ‘Tappers’ are given a list of famous tunes like ‘Happy Birthday’ and they have to tap them out with their fingers on a table. ‘Listeners’ have to guess and write down the name of the tune. They got it right only one in forty times, but when asked how often they’d tapped out an identifiable tune, the tappers thought that half of their tunes would have been guessed correctly. When you’re singing ‘Happy Birthday’ along in your head and tapping the tune out, it seems so blindingly obvious what it is that you’re amazed that no-one can guess it right.
It’s what the authors call ‘the curse of knowledge’. When you’re intimately familiar with a subject matter, it’s very hard to imagine or remember what it’s like to not know it. It’s really hard to put yourself in the ‘listeners’ shoes. That’s one of the biggest reasons people forget about Rule #1.
7Don’t listen to the listeners!
Donors often say one thing but mean another! I’ve seen the results of many an expensive focus group and donor survey. People in them often say that they don’t want charities to waste money by sending them fancy Thank You letters, or they don’t want personalised fundraising kits. Or that they’d never give money through a chugger or a call centre.
I’d take all that with a pinch of salt. People do sign up via chuggers and call centres, or else the big charities simply wouldn’t waste their money doing it.
And remember Rule #2. Despite what they may tell you, pretty much every one of your donors wants to be thanked and made to feel good about their donation. If they don’t want to get an email from you then make sure you write them a letter. All of them! Or better still, send a handwritten note or postcard.
It’s much cheaper and easier to retain an existing donor than to recruit a new one. When it comes to retention rates, most charities still lag behind your average e-commerce store. Your customer service needs to be at least competent, and preferably very personalised.
8The most popular reason for giving to a charity is ‘because someone asked me to’
I’m not telepathic, so if you want me to give you money then you need to ask me. We can sometimes be a bit too British when it comes to talking about money. ‘Sorry to trouble you, I wonder if maybe, if you’re not doing anything else right now, then perhaps you would consider making a small contribution. But don’t worry at all if you’re too busy. It’s my fault for suggesting it. Silly idea really. Sorry.‘ Now isn’t the time to be all Hugh ‘Four Weddings’ Grant.
Don’t hammer people over the head with your appeals for money too often, and remember to thank and inspire them in equal measure. But don’t be shy about asking for money, people expect a charity to do so. It won’t put many of them off, and those ones probably weren’t great donor prospects anyway. A donate button hidden apologetically at the bottom of your email newsletter isn’t going to cut it.
Better still – get your supporters to ask for money on your behalf. That’s why we sponsor marathon runners for charities we’ve barely heard of and would never choose to proactively donate to. Because they asked us to, and we trust our friends more than we trust brands or marketers. Your fundraisers and challenge eventers are great at utilising this ‘social proof’ and hundreds of their friends will give you money because they asked you to. Most of those friends wouldn’t donate if it was you who asked them.
9A retweet from Stephen Fry isn’t your fundraising strategy
Neither is a ‘viral video’. Believe me, neither is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that you might think they are. There isn’t a shortcut or magic bullet to online fundraising success.
Lucky you if your CEO has never uttered these words ‘we need our own version of the Ice Bucket challenge’. Creating your own viral campaign is akin to having ‘win the lottery’ as your fundraising strategy. It almost certainly won’t happen in your lifetime, and if it does then you just need to hang on for the ride. I would imagine that Stephen Sutton raised more money for the Teenage Cancer Trust than the rest of their fundraising department combined. And we was just a young guy with a blog and a story and attitude that you couldn’t help but be drawn to and be inspired by.
10People are busy, lazy and are watching the X-Factor
You don’t have a divine right to their attention, let alone their money, however worthy or important you think your cause is. And however shallow and frustrating you think it is that millions more of them use their phone to vote in a TV singing contest than text to donate to a charity. People relate to people!
Even your most ardent of supporters is probably skim-reading your emails and newsletters. You’re lucky to grab a sliver of everyone else’s precious attention. Get straight to the point. Make it all about them rather than about you. The sweetest sound to someone’s ears is their own name.